How Did V-Mail Stack Up?

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A sergeant compares two rolls of microfilm, together containing 3200 letters, to an equal number of traditional missives. National Archives (111-SC-142-170365-B).

As war raged across the globe, the number of enlisted men and women swelled and post offices were flooded with letters and packages. During the height of the war in 1944 the Post Office Department conducted a survey that found that the 11.5 million men and women serving in the military were sending an average of 6.04 pieces of mail each week.

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A clerk in the New York embarkation center compares a pouch of V-Mail to 57 sacks of mail containing an equal number of letters. National Archives (111-SC-818-384767).

The Post Office, War, and Navy Departments understood mail’s critical role, but could not let mail compete for space with the food, equipment, and troops essential to an Allied victory. V-Mail was an experimental solution to the volume of mail vying for cargo space.

Mail came in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weight, but V-Mail required standardized stationery. The 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch writing paper was specifically designed so that V-Mail letters could have a uniform size and weight and be photographed onto 16 mm microfilm. Microfilmed V-Mail was so tiny that between 1500 and 1800 V-Mail letters could fit on a 90-foot long roll of film. Each reel weighed only four ounces. The microfilmed V-Mail offered such a drastic reduction in weight that it allowed for letters and wartime equipment to be shipped simultaneously.

Officials estimated V-Mail saved up to 98% on cargo weight and space.

150,000 ordinary one-sheet letters
Weight 2,575 pounds
37 mail sacks required

150,000 V-Mail letters (in original form)
Weight 1,500 pounds
22 mail sacks required

150,000 V-Mail letters (microfilmed)
Weight 45 pounds
1 mail sack required

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Sergeant compares the weight of a sack of mail to a reel of V-Mail. National Archives (111-SC-142-170366-B).

A fact sheet from the Office of War Information in 1944 demonstrated the savings to the cargo space with the following tallies:

“V-Mail has saved 4,964,286 cargo pounds since its start in June, 1942. This same number of cargo pounds can take care of the following items:

  1. 2,298,280 units of Army K-Rations, which weigh 2.16 pounds per case when packed for overseas shipment.
  2. 496,428 Garand Automatic Rifles, which weigh 10 pounds each, packed for overseas shipment.
  3. 1,323,809 units of Blood Plasma, which weigh 3-3/4 pounds per unit, packed for overseas shipment.
  4. 51,711 packages of Surgical Dressings, which weigh 96 pounds per package, packed for overseas shipment. An average of 112 dressings are packed in each package, which means 5,791,666 dozen dressings could have been shipped in this space” (File E-NC-148-57/180; OWI Intelligence Digests, Office of War Information, Record Group 208; National Archives at College Park, Maryland).